Tall, Dark and Tempting: A Best Friends to Lovers Romance (Tall, Dark and Sexy Series Book 3)

4

By the time Serena finished watching a sappy, romantic, albeit predictable movie with Dylan a few hours later, while listening to his funny commentary on what was going to happen between the characters before it happened, which admittedly made her laugh, she actually felt marginally better about the less-than-ideal way her evening with Ashton had ended.

But now here she was again, back to square one on the dating scene, which she was beginning to loathe, she thought with a sigh.

“You okay?” Dylan asked, turning down the volume on the TV.

She glanced at him and smiled, grateful that he was always there for her, that he was a man who wouldn’t, and didn’t, hesitate to step into a potentially volatile situation and be her knight in shining armor and defend her honor—even if he’d never return her deeper feelings for him.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I always am, though I’m seriously thinking of hiring a private investigator to vet my future dates,” she said, only half joking.

He laughed. “I’ve been thinking and I have an idea. Maybe you just need a palate cleanser before starting the dating process again.”

She raised her brows, trying to follow his idea. “Kind of like indulging in a mint sorbet in between men to remove any lingering bad taste in my mouth so I can enjoy the next guy with a brand-new perspective?”

“Yeah, exactly like that,” he said with a nod.

“Okay, I’m listening.”

He shifted on the chaise part of the couch where he was reclining to better face her, causing the muscles in his arms and stomach to flex. When they’d both arrived at Dylan’s place, the first thing they’d done was change out of the dressy clothes they’d worn for the wedding. Like always, she’d picked one of his comfy T-shirts to slip into, and he’d returned to the living room in a pair of gray cotton shorts. The fact that his chest was bare made him temptation personified, and during the course of the movie, she’d casually looked her fill of his lean, toned abdomen and that trail of dark hair that provided an enticing path to parts of his body she’d only fantasized about. A lot.

“So, Eric and I are heading to Las Vegas next weekend,” he said, forcing her attention back to what he was saying. “Mainly, it’s because I have a meeting with the marketing manager at the Sapphire Casino and Hotel to finalize the contract on the app Stone Media is creating for them and their guests. It’s a quick, one-night, turnaround trip. We’re arriving Saturday morning around nine so I’m there for my one o’clock meeting, and we’re leaving Sunday afternoon. Why don’t you and Chelsea come with?”

A frivolous weekend away from the same old grind sounded fabulous. “Are you serious?”

He gave her a cute, lopsided smile and slid his index finger down the slope of her nose in a playful manner. “I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t serious, silly girl. You and Chelsea would have your own room for the night, and you can hang out at the pool or indulge in some retail therapy or do a spa day and just relax and rejuvenate while I’m taking care of business. Then, once I’m done with my appointment, it’s playtime in Sin City for the four of us. I’ve already been comped dinner tickets at Sapphire’s five-star restaurant, and we can check out the night club they just opened. Who knows, you just might find the man of your dreams there.”

She laughed at that. “Doubtful.” Because the man of her dreams was sitting right in front of her, oblivious to her feelings for him.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“I think it sounds great . . . as long as Chelsea and I won’t be cramping your and Eric’s style?” The last thing she wanted to be was a tagalong.

“Not at all,” he said, and she knew him well enough to know that he was being honest. “I think it’ll be fun. Just four friends hanging out, gambling, and maybe even being a little wild and crazy in a place where nobody knows us.”

It had been a long time since Serena had let her hair down, so to speak. In fact, she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d just let loose, without analyzing the consequences. She’d always been the quintessential good girl compared to her sister, always responsible and focused, and never coloring outside the lines because she’d had her life laid out in front of her in a particular order. Graduate from high school. Move out on her own while attending college and getting her teaching degree. Establish her career . . . and get married so she could have babies and a family of her own.

Yeah, that last part wasn’t falling into place like she’d imagined, she thought with that too familiar frustration and disappointment. But for one weekend, before she continued her quest for Mr. Right, she just wanted to be a little carefree, spontaneous, and uninhibited and not be so straight-laced, and what better place to do that than Vegas?

“Okay, we’ll go,” she said, excited at all the possibilities that awaited her. And if she was lucky, Vegas was going to be the place she got her groove back.

* * *

Retail therapy had never been Serena’s thing, mostly because she couldn’t bring herself to spend money impulsively. She was too sensible and practical, and there were always those painful memories that lingered from childhood, of her mother buying things she couldn’t afford, but always worrying about paying for rent, the utilities, and food. There had been times when the latter had been sparse, and Serena had been fortunate that Dylan’s mom would insist on her eating dinner with the family, but it taught her to be smart with her finances, and that meant purchasing things at a discount, or when they were on sale. She rarely paid full price for anything.

Chelsea, however, didn’t have that same separation anxiety with money as she did, and every time her friend whipped out her credit card for a purchase in one of the upscale designer boutiques located in the forum shops in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Serena cringed and went into sticker shock at the total amount displayed on the register.

They’d only been in Vegas for a few hours, but as soon as their plane had touched down, Chelsea had dragged her off to shop for a few hours, while Dylan and Eric had gone to the Sapphire Casino and Hotel to check in, and for Dylan’s meeting with the marketing manager. They’d promised to all meet up at five for dinner, then on to the nightclub for an evening of cocktails and dancing. Which left Serena and Chelsea a good six hours to fill.

“Aren’t you going to try on anything at all?” Chelsea asked, her hands already ladened with shopping bags.

“You’re kidding me, right?” Serena asked, raising a brow at her friend as they strolled past Tiffany’s, then the storefront for Dior. “Do you not know me at all?”

“Yes, I know your spending habits, or lack thereof,” she teased, bumping her shoulder against Serena’s. “But here’s a concept for you. Live a little, and for the weekend, stop taking everything so seriously. Just because you try on an outfit doesn’t mean you have to buy it. But we’re in Vegas, and when will you ever get the chance to wear a hot, slinky, one-of-a-kind gorgeous dress like that? Just for fun?”

Serena followed the direction of Chelsea’s pointing finger to a mannequin in a window display that was wearing a stunning body-hugging dress that was definitely nightclub appropriate. “It’s gorgeous,” she murmured.

Chelsea grabbed her wrist and pulled her into the store before Serena could protest. “Come on, you’re trying it on. Just for fun, and because Vegas is all about having fun and being daring, right?”

“Right,” a young, modelesque saleswoman replied with a grin before Serena could utter a word. “You only live once, so embrace the spontaneity.”

Serena refrained from rolling her eyes, knowing that the girl was angling for a sale and doing her best to convince her and Chelsea to indulge. Which wasn’t going to happen.

“Exactly!” Chelsea said, as if she and the other woman shared a brain and thought the same way. “My friend would like to try on that sparkly beige dress in the window.”

Serena shook her head. “I really shouldn't.”

“Oh, you definitely should,” the saleslady refuted as she walked over to a rack holding various sizes of the same outfit. “Because that dress was made for a body like yours.”

Before Serena could put up an argument, she was being ushered into a large changing room, along with the dress and a matching pair of designer shoes because Chelsea wanted to see how everything looked together—for fun, she insisted once again.

Serena sort of felt bad that she was taking up the saleswoman’s time when it wasn’t going to result in a sale. But as she put on the luxurious but overpriced dress, which slid over her body like it had been made specifically for her curves, and secured her feet into the surprisingly comfortable black strappy heels, then looked at her reflection in the mirror, she had to admit that she was stunned by how hot and sexy she looked.

From breasts to thighs, the material molded to her body in a way no other dress in her closet ever had. The bodice was cut into a deep vee in front that showed off her cleavage, and the top was held up by spaghetti straps that crisscrossed along her bare back so that she couldn’t wear a bra. With every move she made, the tiny champagne-colored sequins shimmered seductively, and the heels accentuated her long, toned legs. She felt like a million bucks, which was probably the equivalent of the shoes and dress put together.

“Hurry up, already,” Chelsea called out impatiently from the waiting room. “I want to see!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming!”

Serena walked out of the changing room into the sitting area, and Chelsea gasped when she saw her.

“Wow.” Her friend’s eyes widened with shock. “You look . . . just . . . wow.”

A laughed escaped Serena. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so speechless before.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in something so provocative before,” Chelsea bantered back as her gaze took in the entire outfit. “Now that is a Vegas dress, as well as an I’m-looking-to-get-laid dress.”

“Oh, definitely,” the saleslady agreed with an eager-to-make-a-sale nod. “You look so hot.”

The last thing Serena was searching for on this trip was to have a one-night stand with a stranger, which wasn’t her style, anyway. And it didn’t matter what the dress and shoes conveyed, because she’d only tried them on for fun. But as she looked at herself one more time in the full-length mirror in the waiting area, she couldn’t help but wish she could wear the outfit tonight, because she was curious if it would illicit any kind of reaction from Dylan.

Probably not, she thought with a disappointed sigh, because when Dylan looked at her, he only saw one thing. His best friend. And not the woman who was hopelessly, stupidly in love with him.

She returned to the changing room and removed the dress and shoes, and when the saleslady knocked on her door and requested the items, Serena slipped them through the crack in door, figuring the other woman wanted to get them back out on display. She finished putting on her plain, practical T-shirt, jeans, and a pair of sandals and met Chelsea out front.

“Ready to go?” her friend asked.

“Yep.” Serena turned to the woman who’d been so patient with them and gave her a small wave. “Thank you for your time.”

“Sure thing,” the saleswoman said cheerfully. “Enjoy your dress and shoes.”

Wait . . . what? Just outside the store, Serena came to an abrupt halt as the other woman’s words sank in. Then she glanced down and saw a new bag added to the others that Chelsea had been holding prior to them entering the shop.

Her jaw nearly dropped to the ground. “Oh my God, tell me you did not just buy that outfit!”

Chelsea blinked at her much too innocently. “Of course I didn’t . . . Dylan did.”

“Dylan?” Serena glanced around, expecting to see her best guy friend lurking nearby, but he was nowhere to be found. In fact, this was about the time he was supposed to be getting ready for his important business meeting. “He’s not even here. How is that possible?”

Now, Chelsea looked a little impish. “He gave me his credit card after we landed at the airport, when you were in the restroom, and told me to make sure you bought yourself something fun and Vegas appropriate to wear tonight. I think we accomplished that task, don’t you?”

“I don’t think Dylan was anticipating spending what those two items cost.” She ran her fingers through her hair, her stomach cramping at how much Chelsea had just spent. “It’s ridiculous and I need to take them back.”

“You will do no such thing.” Chelsea walked to a nearby bench and sat on one side while unburdening her hands of all the shopping bags she was hauling around. “Sit down.”

Serena frowned at her friend but settled in for their disagreement. Before she could say anything, Chelsea spoke.

“Look, Dylan said you’d be stubborn about it, so no big shock there. And I figured making the purchase on the sly was the easiest way to achieve the goal without having an argument between us in the store in front of people. He wanted to do this for you, and he said if it made you feel any better, you could consider it your birthday present.”

Serena arched a dubious brow. “My birthday isn’t for another four months.”

“Eh, it’s all a matter of semantics,” Chelsea refuted with a shrug. “It’s a gift that Dylan wanted to give to you, so just embrace it instead of being so resistant.”

Serena exhaled a deep breath and forced her stiff shoulders to relax. On one hand, she was touched that Dylan wanted to do something so sweet, but there was that part of her that thought about his ex-girlfriend, Brandy, and how she’d taken advantage of what was in Dylan’s bank account to offset the fact that he hadn’t given her the emotional attention she’d craved. Serena wasn’t that kind of girl, and never would be, but it was also difficult for her to accept such a luxurious, expensive gift for no reason at all—because she certainly didn’t believe his excuse about buying it for her birthday.

Chelsea put her hand on Serena’s arm, bringing her back to their conversation. “I say you wear the outfit and enjoy the sexy, confident way it makes you feel. You deserve that after . . . well, the whole debacle with Ashton,” she said with a cringe, since she’d been partially responsible for introducing her to the guy. “Let’s meet Dylan and Eric for dinner, then go to the nightclub and live it up for the evening, because I can guarantee that one look and guys are going to flock to you. And even better, you can show Dylan what he’s missing out on.”

Serena laughed derisively at that, because Chelsea knew all about her unrequited love for Dylan. “You can’t miss what you’ve never wanted,” she said of his platonic feelings for her.

A knowing smile curved Chelsea’s lips. “Trust me. He’s a guy with a dick. And best friend zone or not, he’s going to notice your perky boobs and firm ass in that dress. He’d have to be dead or impotent not to, and I really don’t think he’s either,” she teased.

“Whatever.” Serena waved a hand between them, dismissing that possibility when she’d never seen Dylan look at her with anything more than affection. She just didn’t inspire desire, lust, or passion when it came to him . . . except in her own fantasies.

“Okay, you win,” she said, because she clearly wasn’t going to get the upper hand in this difference of opinion. “I’ll wear the outfit and solemnly swear that I’ll have a good time while doing it.”

Chelsea beamed triumphantly. “I knew you’d see things my way. Now let’s head back to the hotel and enjoy a few spa treatments before we meet the boys for dinner.”